While most countries in the world welcome Washington’s conciliatory message towards Iran, some analysts in the region are skeptical.
Referring to U.S. President Barack Obama’s video message on the occasion of the Iranian New Year last week, Christian Koch of the Gulf Research Center (GRC) said Washington’s opening to Iran is a step in the right direction, but once again Tehran is likely to miss this opportunity for rapprochement.
‘‘Obama’s gesture introduced the critical element of public diplomacy by addressing the people and leaders of Iran jointly, finally acknowledging that trying to drive a wedge between Iran’s leaders and people is unproductive,’’ Koch, director of international studies at the Dubai-based think tank, told IPS.
‘‘Unfortunately, given the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s dismissal of the message,” Koch added, “the likely result is the further isolation of Iran to the detriment of regional security.’’
In an attempt to end three decades of U.S.-Iran strain that has also affected other countries in the region, Obama stressed that his administration is committed to ‘‘diplomacy that addresses the full range of issues’’ and to pursuing ‘‘constructive ties among the United States, Iran, and the international community.’’
This process, Obama said, ‘‘will not be advanced by threats. We seek, instead, engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect.’’The U.S. president indicated that this type of relationship “cannot be reached through terror or arms, but rather through peaceful actions that demonstrate the true greatness of the Iranian people and civilization.’’
However, Khamenei dismissed Obama’s overtures, saying there will be no change unless the president-elect ends U.S. hostility toward Iran and ensures “real changes” in foreign policy.Iran has repeatedly sought a U.S. apology for past grievances and an end to allegations that it is seeking to produce nuclear arms.
According to independent Kuwaiti political analyst Ali Jaber Al-Sabah, , Khamenei’s reaction is symptomatic of Iran’s history of intransigence. and closely linked to its nuclear program, seen as a serious threat to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which comprises Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates.
‘‘The U.S. attempt to make a new beginning with Iran will yield the same old results—defiance and non-cooperation. Iran will never abandon its nuclear program,’’ the Kuwait-based political analyst Al-Sabah told IPS,. “Iran will never abandon its nuclear program,’’ For this reason, Iran continues to be perceived as a serious threat by member-states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) - Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates.
Explaining the difference between the approaches adopted by the George Bush and Obama administrations, Al-Sabah said: ‘‘While the means are different, the end is the same. Just as Obama made a video address, it is possible that he would make a similar speech sooner or later announcing a real ‘action’ plan in response to Tehran’s inflexibility.’’
GRC’s Koch said: ‘’The past few years have made it clear that the current leadership in Tehran is not interested in true negotiations. Rather, its sole objective is to buy time to avoid making any concessions on the nuclear front. Ultimately, this is a dead-end road.’’
The international relations expert explained that ‘‘just as Gulf security cannot be accomplished without Iran, neither can it be constructed around an Iran that seeks to institutionalize its dominance over its neighbors. Any development in U.S.-Iran relations needs to be viewed within the larger context of regional Gulf security.’’
Koch added that Obama’s message is completely in line with the interests of GCC countries. ‘‘There is no appetite in the Gulf for another conflict and the GCC leaders have consistently stressed ties based on mutual respect and the non-interference in internal affairs.’’
Koch cited several examples of what he describes as Iran’s failure to take advantage of chances to build a constructive regional relationship: leaving unresolved the issue of the three islands of Abu Mussa and Greater and Lesser Tunbs with the UAE, failing to join the Saudi-proposed Arab peace initiative on the Arab-Israeli conflict, and responding inadequately to Riyadh’s proposal for a joint regional nuclear enrichment consortium.
Although conceding that talks between Iran and its neighbors on these issues “just prolong the agony of the GCC countries,” Al-Sabah said that talking remains “an essential part of the process towards any end. Even if it is bound to fail, it lends credibility to subsequent action.’’
And attempts at political rapprochement recently suffered an additional setback. In February, a member of Iran’s powerful Expediency Council reportedly said that Bahrain was once Iran’s 14th province. This provocative statement was widely condemned in the Arab world. Iran’s aggressive military intent may be less worrying for now, but deep-rooted suspicion of Iran is widespread among GCC countries.
However, some observers remain optimistic. Mehran Kamrava, director of the Center for International and Regional Studies at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar, told IPS that Khamenei’s response to Obama “was carefully crafted and non-ideological. The next stage of improving the tense atmospherics will depend on the outcome of Iran’s presidential elections in June. Depending on the outcome of those elections, the Americans may initiate more concrete steps toward engaging Iran in a dialogue.”
Meena Janardhan writes for the Inter Press Service.
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